I started a new Crime Network campaign last night. This time around I decided to bring in as much of the real world as possible. So we are using all real mobsters and crime families, real local businesses, real local politicians, real news, etc. At the same time I am taking liberties with these things and adding in the occasional fictional place. We've set the campaign in Boston, which is where I normally run my modern games.
The way I handle local businesses and NPCs is I just use google. If the players go to some a business, church, strip club or other location in the Boston Metro Area (and occasionally, the Greater Boston Area) I just look up the place and see who runs it. Most of them seem to have online profiles with details that can springboard ideas in a mafia campaign. So if I look up a county's district attorney, I use the picture of the person in office (or just their name if no picture is provided) to create a personality fitting to the campaign. I usually try to add a vice or quirk that feels right to the mob genre. I find pictures like this often convey an immediate idea, and if they don't I can just ask "what sort of person is this?" or "what would be an interesting characteristic or secret for this person to have". I aim for larger-than-life. Mafia movies often have a lot of humor so I don't shy away from things like making the state governor a violent madman behind the scenes, with his finger dipped in many criminal enterprises; or having the editor-in-chief of the local paper, a cocaine fiend (or some other vice that will connect them to the criminal underworld).
One thing that surprised me was how many ideas you get when you go to the website of a business or organization. For example, there was a house of worship in last night's game that boasted about charity programs which I turned into a source of illegal income and a way for them to recruit muscle.
Another useful tool I used was the Rangen Family Generator (HERE) so we could establish who the Player Characters relatives were. This one is intended mainly for writers but I found it useful because it lists the disposition of each family member to the Main Character (which I just switched to the Player Character) and if you click the detailed generator option, it provides interesting details in a sentence or two about each family member. I was genuinely surprised how well these two pieces of information worked in play on the fly. At one point a character called his father the results from the generator were very useful in helping me quickly establish how to play the dad. The only thing we had to adjust were some of the names.
I also made another relationship table (which I am pasting below). Here I took all the non-characters I had fleshed out for the initial sessions of the campaign (placing the really important people on TABLE II) and had each player roll 1d10 to see who they are connected to. Then I rolled on the NATURE OF RELATIONSHIP table to determine if they were cousins, siblings, friends, etc. Note, because we used real world people, I changed all the names in the example below. In the actual table, the names are all real mobsters and local people.
For events around the players (both inconsequential and pertaining to their criminal activities or campaign) I am using local news sources in real time. We are going to try to keep each session to being one week if we can (this may prove impossible but I'd like to have the calendar date in the campaign be close to the actual date). I will also add in other stories, so if they ask what is in the news, I pick headlines off the front page of the paper and add in some of my own. This will be their way of finding potential criminal opportunities but also developments that are important to the politics of the family.
One of the reasons I tend to set these campaigns in Boston (and usually around the area I live in) is so I can easily manage things like driving distances, local geography, etc. I find it is very easy to game the local area, so I can focus on other aspects of play like characters, groups, relationships, criminal opportunities and vendettas.
These tend to be short campaigns (3-10 sessions) that I play in-between larger ones. So we'll see how this one goes. We had our first session last night. Most of it was just sorting out background of characters, but they did manage to shake down a local strip club, which led them on a wild hunt that resulted in violent car chase (and nearly-lethal car crash). One of the PCs is recovering at the hospital and the others are planning their next move.